Mitchell Baines, former wide receiver for the Ottawa GeeGees football team, was signed to Saskatchewan Roughriders of the CFL after his stellar 2016 season where he amassed 984 yards and 8 touchdowns. He was also named a U Sports Second Team All-Canadian. These are all great accomplishments, especially for some who almost didn't play university football at all. Take a look at Mitchell Baines' "Going Pro" story below.
Arnold: Tell us a little about how you started playing football and how you ended up at UOttawa.
Mitchell: Well, I was always a baseball player growing up, but as I got older I figured with my size it made sense to try out football, which is obviously much more physical. My two older brothers both played in a touch football league so I started there, then later on I ended up playing running back for the Canterbury Mustangs. Coming out of high school I wasn’t really recruited at all so I figured my football days were behind me. During a poker night my buddy Dustin convinced me to send an email to Coach Asselin, who was the head coach at UOttawa. I guess Coach Asselin liked my highlight tape because I met up with him about a week after that and decided to try walking onto the team that fall.
Arnold: What were the biggest challenges you faced as a student-athlete, and how did you overcome them?
Mitchell: The big thing people don’t realize is the amount of hours you spend not only practicing but also watching film and working out. It’s a huge time commitment to play university football. My biggest challenge was finding the balance between actually getting my schoolwork done while ensuring I made all the practices and knew all my plays. I really struggled with marks when I started at UOttawa, but with time was able to balance everything out. It was mostly just about making sacrifices and cutting down on things like TV/video games to get the schoolwork done.
Arnold: When did you realize that you could potentially make it to the pros? What kept you motivated to achieve it?
Mitchell: It was after my fourth season on the team when I put up 600 receiving yards and 7 TDs. My first season as a starter (3rd year of eligibility) I really didn’t do much statistically and was disappointed when I wasn’t selected to participate in the East-West All-Star game. So, I trained hard that off-season, not really because I believed I could go pro but because I wanted to prove that I should have been invited to the All-Star game. After my fourth season my brother texted me saying I better start training hard because I was likely going to be invited to the CFL Combine. That was a huge eye-opener and I thought that putting up a good showing at the combine with my last season backing me up meant I’d have a good shot at being drafted.
Arnold: Throughout your journey, who or what has been your biggest inspiration or motivation?
Mitchell: There isn’t really one person but there are a few people I’ve drawn inspiration from. Former GeeGees and teammates of mine, Ettore Lattanzio and Brendan Gillanders, are guys I look up to, not only because of their talent but because of both their work ethics. They’re two of the hardest working people I know and showed me that if you put in the work you can make your dreams a reality. Both of them have dealt with adversity, having been not drafted or cut, and fought back to play a role on a Grey Cup winning team. My older brother Jarryd was one of the reasons I got into football and it was cool watching his journey from CIS linebacker to CFL coach; it’s a different path than the one I’m taking but again it just shows what you can pull off if you grind.
Arnold: How did you prepare yourself for the CFL and what do you think will be the biggest challenge for you?
Mitchell: I’ve pretty much made training for the CFL my full-time job to make sure I’m as ready as possible when the season starts. Just making sure I’m in the gym everyday and it’s a routine that I stick with; plus, working with my speed trainer, Iseah and his Limitless company, three times a week so that I maintain my speed while gaining weight. Other than that, just getting on a field and doing little footwork drills and running routes. For me, the biggest challenge will be mentally; Saskatchewan is very far from Ottawa so I won’t be able to see family and friends and it’ll be tough living away and not being able to see my kid, Carter.
Arnold: What expectations have you set for yourself as you enter the next level?
Mitchell: First and foremost, I want to make the team. I have not set individual statistic goals, but I’m going to have a high motor and go 100% all the time. The big thing for first year Canadians in the CFL is the ability to play special teams, so I’m going to make sure I’m out there making plays during any opportunities I have on specials.
Arnold: How was your first mini-camp and what was it like to be out there with other professional athletes?
Mitchell: It was a pretty huge adjustment. The biggest difference was just getting used to the speed and physicality that the Americans play with. Everything moves really fast and there is no wasted time during practice. It was super cool to be playing with other pros, most notably some of the former NFL guys I grew up watching and playing with in Madden. Vince Young was the big one because I was a huge fan of him growing up, and now I was out there catching passes from him.
Arnold: What’s a quote that you like to live by?
Mitchell: I mean, it’s pretty cliché but, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” is always a motto I’ve followed. What I take from it is there’s no sense living life in fear, you need to always trust in your ability and believe in yourself. I truly believe a big part of sports is mental and if you’re on a football field playing scared or not trusting in yourself you’ll never succeed.
Arnold: Looking back, what’s the most important lesson that you'll take away from your time as a student-athlete?
Mitchell: Just balancing out the workload you’re given in life. If I’m able to manage a Coach Baressi schedule mixed in with classes and midterms plus parenting on the side, I think I’ll be able to handle the challenges that are thrown my way later on in life. One of the great things about football is the lessons it teaches you; they definitely prepare you for life after school.
We want to thank Mitchell for providing some great insight from his last 5 years at UOttawa and hope to see him transfer his success to the next level in the CFL!